Words matter--and they matter even more when they are violent words. Apparently, GOP leadership agrees.
Despite the unwillingness of mainstream media to connect the dots,
the base and leadership of the GOP are matching their rhetoric to the
disturbing rise of violent talk at Tea Party rallies and amongst
conservative anti-government groups. The conclusion: rather than recoil
at violent language, GOP leadership seems to see it as a chance to turn
Most notably, Chairman of the RNC, Michael Steele, issued a recent call to Republicans to put Nancy Pelosi on the "firing line" because of the health insurance reform bill.
By using the phrase "firing line," Steele encourages Republican
activists to think of the next election as an execution of the
opposition or a violent killing. The language Steele uses is not
neutral. "Defeat" is defined as "kill." "Voting" is linked to
"shooting." Winning the election is couched in an image of
In a similar violent vein, Sarah Palin via Twitter told her
Republican followers to "reload" and "aim for" Democrats, directing GOP
activists to her SarahPac website where they found a map of the country
festooned with rifle scope cross-hairs over Congressional districts
held by Democrats.
Palin's rifle scope map is the kind of image one might expect to see
in an ad for a violent, first-person shooter video game. Again, neither
the language nor the imagery Palin uses are neutral. For Palin, the
concepts of political "organizing" and "volunteering" are recast as the
functions of a rifle. "Campaigning" is re-imagined as a counter assault
on a war battlefield. Even more disturbing, Palin re-imagines the
traditional U.S. map as a military kill list. Engaging in election
politics is framed as violent assault.
When seen in the context of this violent rhetoric by the highest-profile figures in the Republican Party, recent calls for gun violence seen at Tea Party rallies on Capital Hill take on new meaning.
If the GOP leadership is truly appalled by calls for violence in
response to legislation passed in Congress, their language would
reflect that abhorrence for violence. Instead, GOP leadership seems to
be shaping their messages to match the violent turn in the rhetoric
from their base.
Even more disturbing, however, the violent framing from GOP
leadership has suddenly sprung up in a context where anti-government
conservative groups are inciting their members to engage in physical
acts of violence against Democrats, resulting in bricks being thrown
through windows of Democratic Party offices and vandalism against the
house of a Democratic Congressman's family member.
former leader of the Alabama Constitutional Militia, recently called
for hundreds of thousands of gun owners to "point their muzzles at the
hearts of tyrants" when discussing ways to oppose recent congressional
legislation. Reports have come out linking Vanderboegh's statements to
recent violence against Democratic Party offices.
What should be done?
First and foremost: The mainstream media has an obligation to
connect the sudden use of violent rhetoric and imagery by GOP
leadership to the various incidents of violent language and actions by
political activists. Telling viewers that right-wing violence is
"isolated" or "fringe" is inaccurate at best, misleading and dishonest
Second: GOP leadership needs to make unequivocal statements
condemning all explicit use of violence and violent rhetoric in
politics. Silence is consent.
Third: GOP leadership needs to demonstrates constructive ways for
their supporters to express their disagreement with the opposition's
ideas or legislation. Brandishing weapons--either literally or on
posters--is not constructive. Death threats are not constructive.
When Americans threaten to use firearms to enforce their political
views, the violent threats carried by that language undermines the
system of public debate on which our system depends. Healthy political
debate can sustain a great deal of anger and passion, but it cannot
sustain repeated threats of violence and calls for violent assault as a
form of political engagement.
It is time to for right-wing political violence to stop before passions turn to bloodshed.